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Oral sex is when you use your mouth to stimulate your partner’s genitals. This could mean kissing, licking, sucking, or nibbling on their butt, vulva, or penis—or any combination thereof. This guide is designed to be useful to people of all genders and sexualities: no matter your gender, or your partner’s, we hope there’s something useful and informative in here for you. 

First things first: some health and safety basics

A conversation about protection and STIs should come before any receiving or giving of oral sex, so that’s what we’re going to talk about now!

Like most sexual contact, there is a risk of transmitting STIs when giving or receiving oral sex. For example, if you or your partner have cold sores, you can give your partner herpes by going down on them. Other STIs, like gonorrhea, chlamydia, and HPV can be transmitted through oral sex; and although many of these STIs can be cured, they can cause ongoing health problems if they’re not diagnosed and treated quickly. There’s a relatively low risk of transmitting HIV through oral sex, although a low risk is still a risk.

You can practise safer oral sex by talking to your partner about their risk of STIs, and deciding together on what protection you’ll use. Condoms can be used for oral sex on a penis, and dental dams can be used for oral sex on a vulva, and rimming. If you’re in an exclusive relationship with your partner (or partners), we recommend getting an STI check before you stop using protection—just to make sure that neither you or your partner/s are at risk.

There is technically no risk of pregnancy through oral sex. The mouth isn’t connected to the reproductive organs in any way, so even if your partner ejaculates in your mouth it’s not possible for you to get pregnant from that. However, semen can be transferred to your vagina if you have it on your hands, a device, or anything else; so we recommend keeping up with your normal contraception just in case.

Getting in the mood for oral

Oral, like most sex acts, shouldn’t be something you launch into with zero preparation (unless giving or receiving spontaneous oral sex is your thing—but you should probably discuss that with your partner first). Although oral sex can be part of foreplay, it also requires some foreplay of its own to get your partner in the mood.

You can start by setting the mood—literally—with some sultry lighting, fresh bed sheets, and some soft and tender touches for your partner. Indulge in a make-out session with them, undress them slowly, and tell them how great they look and how turned on they make you feel. Basically, whatever you and your partner like to do to get each other turned on is what you want to be doing before oral sex. 

Giving good oral isn’t just about what you do between their legs, either! You can—and should—interact with the rest of their body on your way down, and during oral. Touch their nipples, kiss their stomach, nibble their thighs; and use your hands to support their legs or hold their hands in yours while you go down on them. You can also whisper some nice compliments or sexy things to them as well: many people can feel a bit exposed and even insecure when their partner gets up close to their genitals, so some reassuring comments about how sexy your partner looks won’t go astray.

How to give great oral

There’s no step-by-step instructions for how to give great oral—what works for one person may not work for another, because the way we like to be stimulated and pleasured is such a personal thing. However, we asked sex coach and author Georgia Grace for some tips that your partner might love:

The more advanced techniques

If you’re regularly giving your partner oral sex but you feel like you’re stuck in a bit of a rut, here are some tips to spice up your oral—no grapefruit required…

Oral etiquette

Oral sex is exciting, but it can feel like there’s a lot of etiquette around it. Here we’ve answered some of the more common questions about what you should, shouldn’t, and can’t do during oral sex.

Do I need to shave or wax first?

Not unless you want to. Being hair-free can provide an interesting change in sensation, but you shouldn’t change your body hair unless you want to. Don’t feel like you need to rush out for a bikini wax so your body can look like the bodies you’ve seen in porn or in the media—your comfort comes first!

What if I smell or taste bad?

Nobody’s genitals taste like fairy floss—all humans have a unique, human-like scent and taste down there, and because everyone’s body is different there’s no one particular way you should taste or smell. We definitely recommend against any perfumes, sprays, douches, or washes that claim to alter the smell of your genitals, as these can actually cause infections by changing the body’s natural bacteria. As long as you shower regularly and keep on top of basic personal hygiene, your smell and taste will be fine—but if it really worries you, it’s worth having a chat to a doctor and a quick STI test to make sure your scent isn’t indicative of an infection.

What if I can’t make my partner come?

It’s as normal not to climax from oral sex as it is to climax from oral sex. Not everyone will come from oral, so if your partner doesn’t, don’t think that it’s your fault or that something bad has happened. They might enjoy oral as a precursor to other forms of sex, and appreciate the act without expecting an orgasm from it. However, you can and should ask them if they’re enjoying what you’re doing, and if there’s anything they want you to do differently. Asking them this will give them the chance to say, “No, this is great!” or, “Actually, it might make me come if you…”

Do I have to reciprocate?

We’re big believers in equality in and out of the bedroom, but no—you don’t have to give your partner oral sex just because they’ve given you oral sex. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do! “You must speak about it with the person you’re having sex with,” says Georgia. “Will you both have a go at giving and receiving? Do you take turns, or do it at the same time? If someone doesn’t feel comfortable doing it, you can not convince, coerce, or trick someone into any unwanted sexual experiences.”

If your partner isn’t into oral, Georgia suggests asking them what they do enjoy, or what else they want to do instead. And if you’re not into oral, you can offer to do something else for your partner if you want to. When it comes to oral sex, Georgia says, “There is no ‘etiquette’, the only rules are the ones you create.”

To learn more about the foundations of great sex with acclaimed sex coach Georgia Grace, check out NORMAL's video masterclass, The Modern Guide To Sex.